With listings for private villas at more than 750 resorts across North America , locally-based Resort Rentals By Owner appears to be well on its way toward becoming a leading marketplace for deals on timeshares.
The Resort Rentals By Owner website, RRBO.com, was founded in May 2009 by three former CompuServe/AOL executives: Mike Blackwell, Mike Doel, and Bob Kington.
Blackwell is “a frustrated timeshare owner,” says Kington. “He has a hard time using his particular unit, has had trouble trading it, and there’s been no good way to rent it, short of listing it on Craigslist and dealing with the hassle of strangers calling −offering lowball prices− and taking on the risk of a rental and a payment with a stranger. He’s an entrepreneur and looking for technology solutions, particularly using the Internet, where he can build a better solution to a common problem.”
Blackwell became convinced that, with Kington and Doel, he could build that solution online and VacationView Inc. was born.
Blackwell, the former CEO of ShareThis who previously led AOL’s search technology group, is the company’s CEO. Kington, who spent more than 25 years working for tech companies, including OCLC, Goal Systems and, of course, CompuServe/AOL, where he was the executive producer of the online service, is the Chief Operating Officer. And Doel, who gained 15-plus years of software development and management experience leading the development team at CompuServe, is the Chief Technical Officer.
“We have very detailed information on the resorts on our site, including detailed descriptions, a list of amenities, room types, maps, bird’s-eye views, et cetera,” Kington says. “Renters can also visit each resort’s website for additional information. We encourage people to look at the resort’s website, see what the rental prices are there if they book a room or villa directly from the resort, and then compare the rental price if they book from an individual timeshare owner on RRBO. We’re typically about 40 percent less.”
Kington says the site’s prices typically fall between $800 and $2,500 per week, with an average of $1,600.
“But it ranges from $400 up to over $5,000 for three to four bedrooms in the very best weeks of the year,” he notes, adding that those prices are weekly rates− tax included.
When the trio was developing RRBO.com, Kington says they talked with timeshare owners about the issues they faced with their own properties: Was trading easy? How often did they use their units versus trading or renting?
However, they didn’t really look to other business owners for input or counsel.
“The founders are all fairly experienced and have served as mentors to others for years, so we weren’t really looking for mentorship per se,” Kington says.
“Certainly the collective experience in the online world influenced how we created RRBO,” he notes. “We learned a lot about consumer behavior online and how to build and support a web service.”
RRBO has only overseen 14 rental transactions, as the principals have been careful with advertising dollars since they want to fine tune their product a bit before they ramp up marketing efforts during the next busy rental season, which starts in late December “for ski trips and spring break,” Kington says.
To date, their biggest challenge has been “staying focused on building a great product and not being distracted by all of the peripheral opportunities that present themselves,” he says. “The team meets daily for 10 minutes at 9:50 a.m. −10 before 10 meeting− and we all get on the same page with that day’s activities.”
For those starting their own business, Kington has these words of advice: “Make sure you have a real market with lots of growth upside and enough capital to last twice as long as you think you need.”
He also advises those starting a tech business to “get real customers to tell you what they need, and make sure they understand and covet what you’re creating. Too many tech businesses only make sense to other techies and there is often not enough of them as customers to make a real business.”
To learn more about Resort Rentals By Owner, visit RRBO.com.